Cameroonian community praises 'hero' Pascal Siakam after Raptors' Game 1 win
Siakam is the 1st Cameroonian player to reach the NBA Finals
There was little fanfare when the Toronto Raptors chose skinny, unheralded forward Pascal Siakam in the 2016 NBA draft, but Gervais Tchinda says he and others in the city's small Cameroonian community were excited to see one of their countrymen join the team.
Now, as Siakam has emerged as a driving force on the Raptors' first-ever run to the NBA Finals, Tchinda says members of the diaspora are "so happy" to watch the 25-year-old player and the team succeed.
"We are all hyped, all excited about the team. Almost all Cameroonians in town are watching basketball," Tchinda said Friday, after Siakam led the Raptors to a 118-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 the night before.
Tchinda, who co-founded the Association of Cameroonian Youths in Toronto three years ago, said he watched the game at his home with several other young fans from Cameroon, a largely French-speaking country of about 23 million people in central Africa.
"I was astonished to see Pascal stepping up and being the man to score and lead us to victory," he said, noting Siakam landed a team-high 32 points.
"[Cameroonians] are viewing him as a hero," added Melly Lum, an employee of the Cameroonian restaurant Tribe lounge, which has been hosting Raptors viewing parties during the NBA playoffs.
Lum said she and her customers "were all jumping on the chairs" during Thursday's Raptors victory.
A letter from Cameroon
Siakam said the support from Cameroonians in Toronto and abroad has been inspiring during his rise to become one of the NBA's brightest young stars.
Before the finals, Siakam received a letter of support from Cameroon's sports minister Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, congratulating him on becoming the first Cameroonian player to reach the NBA Finals.
"To be a child of Cameroon, and also of Africa and to be at this level is something exceptional. I'm very proud. Proud to be Cameroonian, proud to be African and to be here to represent Africa," Siakam told reporters the day after his explosive opening game.
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"I hope that being here will send a message to all Cameroonians, to all Africans that it's possible to be here if you work hard," he said.
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green added further praise during his Friday media appearance.
Like Siakam, Green was never expected to develop into a star when he entered the NBA.
"To become one of those guys, I think, is special, and Siakam has done that," Green said. "He's become a second [scoring] option on this team."
Siakam is also one of three finalists for the NBA's Most Improved Player award, along with D'Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets and De'Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings.
Most NBA analysts consider him the favourite to win the award.
Fans hoping for future meetings
Tchinda said his youth group has been trying to arrange a formal meeting with Siakam, but so far the NBA star's busy schedule has prevented it from happening. Tchinda noted, however, that he and some friends ran into Siakam outside the team's arena after a game this winter.
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"He's very cool," Tchinda said. "He was also happy to see Cameroonians and take photos."
For his part, Siakam said he didn't know much about the Cameroonian community in Toronto but was grateful for his fans.
"I have a lot of support from my fellow Cameroonians and just Africa in general," he told reporters on Friday. "It feels great because you always know that Canada and especially in Toronto, the diversity is incredible. You have people from different countries and all together just cheering for one team. Obviously, having that support is amazing."
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Siakam and the Raptors will look to keep their momentum going when they host the Warriors for Game 2 of the Finals on Sunday Night.
Tchinda said he'll be watching.
"I don't know if Pascal can hear this, but all Cameroonians are behind this team," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press